Number Portability Resource Center
If you want to do the number portability dance, it's easier than you probably think. But there are some important catches and limitations you should know first:
It doesn't apply in all areas
The FCC's November deadline only applies to the top 100 largest metro areas in the country (as defined by the most recent Census). To see if your area is included, check our Availability Map. (see following pages)
If the phone number you want to keep is not based in one of the areas above, the FCC's deadline for carriers being able to port your number - in most cases - is May 24, 2004. However, you should still contact the new carrier you want to switch to and ask if they can port your number. Some companies may allow porting before the deadline.
Also, smaller carriers are not required to port numbers until six months after they receive their first genuine porting request. Therefore, your request could be the one that forces a smaller carrier to comply with the government's mandate.
Contracts still apply
Just because you can switch your service and keep your number, doesn't nullify any contract you may be under. If you are still under a service contract, you can switch at any time, but you will still owe monthly fees to your old carrier, or be forced to pay a hefty termination fee. You don't have to end your contract or settle your bill before you transfer your number - your old carrier is required to transfer your number even if you are under contract or owe money - but you will still owe the money.
You'll need a new phone
In most cases, you will not be able to use your old phone with your new carrier. Some carriers use different wireless technologies that are simply incompatible.
But even if both carriers happen to use the same technology, most phones sold by U.S. carriers are intentionally "locked" so that they will not work with another carrier. That's because most phones are sold cheaply at a loss to the carrier; the "lock" is a way to protect the carrier's investment in you as a customer.
The possible exception is if you have an unlocked GSM phone. If you're not sure, then you phone is almost certainly locked. If you're a long-time T-Mobile customer, it may be worth calling customer service before you switch, and asking if they will give you the unlock code.
If you know you have an unlocked GSM phone, then you can probably take it with you to AT&T Wireless or T-Mobile. If you want to switch to Cingular, make sure it supports GSM 850, or it will not work on most of Cingular's network. If you want to switch to Verizon, Sprint, or another carrier, you're out of luck.
You may be charged a fee
Your old carrier may charge you a one-time porting fee to transfer your number. The FCC hasn't put any strict limits on the fee, except to say that it should be "reasonable and just". This is different from any number portability fee you may be seeing already on your monthly bill.
Portable is not transportable
Area codes still have the same meaning in the era of portability. You can't move a number to different city. So if you move across the country, your number will still be local in the old city, and you may be subject to roaming charges. In addition, some carriers have little-publicized restrictions on what portion of your minutes can be used outside your "home" area, and that your billing address must be in your "home" area.
Landline transfers take longer
For wireless-to-wireless transfers, the process should be fairly quick. Official industry and FCC guidelines call for the process to take no longer than two and a half hours. But if you're transferring your number from a land line to wireless, the official industry guidelines suggest that you should allow four business days for the process to complete.
The timeframes are only guidelines, however, not set-in-stone requirements. With both types of transfers, your number should remain active the entire time - active on one or phone or the other. Also, certain non-basic services may take longer to activate on the new carrier.